Saturday, July 20, 2024

More on the GOP and social conservatism

For those not following me on X (Twitter), some posts from the last couple of days attempting further to clarify what is at issue, and at stake, in the debate over the direction of the GOP:

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Now is the time for social conservatives to fight

Readers who follow me on X (Twitter) will know of the intense debate occurring there over the last week between social conservatives critical of Trump’s gutting of the GOP platform and those defending it.  A pair of bracing, must-read articles at First Things and National Review recount how pro-lifers were brazenly shut out of the platform process.  For social conservatives to acquiesce out of partisan loyalty would be to commit assisted political suicide.  Today I posted the following, which elaborates on considerations I raised in an earlier article:

A brief memo to social conservatives worried that criticism of the GOP will cost it votes, and who claim that the critics are politically naïve:

First, yes, criticism could cost the party votes. That’s precisely the point. The party could lose votes IF, in the months remaining before the election, it does not try seriously to meet the concerns of social conservatives. In particular, the GOP must be made to see that it cannot take their votes for granted. And the party must do something to make up for the appalling injustice that was done to social conservatives during the platform process, as recounted in the First Things article linked to. 

Second, it is not the critics, but those who urge their fellow social conservatives to keep their mouths shut, who are politically naïve. The only thing politicians can be relied on to respond to is the prospect of losing votes or losing money. If the GOP fears that it might lose the votes or financial contributions of a critical mass of social conservatives, it will have to take their concerns seriously. If, instead, social conservatives acquiesce to what has happened rather than fighting back, the party will have no incentive to try to address their concerns in the future – and every incentive not to do so, given the unpopularity of social conservatism in the culture at large.

The stakes are high, and that is precisely why social conservatives must raise the alarm NOW, while they might still influence the direction of the party, not in some fantasy post-election future. The actual political reality is that if the GOP wins, having thrown social conservatives under the bus without any pushback from them, the party will draw the lesson that it no longer needs to worry about them or their concerns.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Fight, yes, but for what?

It is impossible not to admire the resilience and fighting spirit with which Donald Trump responded – literally within moments – to the failed attempt to take his life.  And that he is among the luckiest of politicians is evidenced not just by his survival, but by the fact that the moment was captured in photographs as dramatic as any seen in recent history.  His supporters are understandably inspired, indeed electrified.  And his enemies are sure to be demoralized by the sympathy this event will generate – not to mention the blinding contrast between Trump’s virility and the accelerating decline of his doddering opponent.  Naturally, that those enemies include some very bad people only reinforces Trump’s supporters’ devotion to him, which is now at a fever pitch.  But it is precisely at moments of high emotion that the cold water of reason, however unpleasant, is most needed.

Friday, July 12, 2024

The future of the Magisterium

The latest issue of First Things features a symposium on the future of the Catholic Church, to which I contributed an article on the future of the Magisterium.  You can read the entire symposium online here.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Rawls on religion

Though John Rawls wrote much that is of relevance to religion – and in particular, to the question of what influence it can properly have on politics (basically none, in Rawls’s view) – he wrote little on religion itself.  After his death, his undergraduate senior thesis, titled A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith, was published.  Naturally, it is of limited relevance to his mature thought.  However, published in the same volume was a short 1997 personal essay titled “On My Religion,” which is not uninteresting as an account of the development of his religious beliefs.  I think it does shed some light on his political philosophy.  From Rawls’s best-known works, the conservative religious believer is bound to judge Rawls’s knowledge and understanding of religion to be shallow.  And indeed, I think his views on these matters were shallow.  But as the essay reveals, that is not because he didn’t give much thought to them.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Hobbes and Kant on capital punishment

Thomas Hobbes and Immanuel Kant both had an enormous formative influence on modern moral and political philosophy, and on liberalism in particular.  But their approaches are very different.  Hobbes begins with what strikes the average reader as a base and depressing conception of what individual human beings are like in their natural state, and sees society arising out of an act of cold, calculating self-interest.  Kant, by contrast, seems committed to a lofty and inspiring conception of human beings, and regards society as grounded in a respect for the dignity of persons.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Immortal Souls in eBook format

The paperback version of my new book Immortal Souls: A Treatise on Human Nature sold out on Amazon within a day of being listed there.  No word on when it will be back in stock, but I imagine it will be soon.  Meanwhile, the eBook version is available through Barnes and Noble.  You can also order either version through the publisher’s website or through Amazon’s websites in the U.K. and Germany.

UPDATE: The book is back in stock at Amazon.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Scruton on tradition

Roger Scruton’s essay “Rousseau and the Origins of Liberalism” first appeared in The New Criterion in 1998, and was reprinted in The Betrayal of Liberalism, edited by Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball.  Among the many good things in it, there is an important expression and defense of the conservative understanding of tradition.  Scruton writes:

Modern liberals tend to scoff at the idea of tradition.  All traditions, they tell us, are “invented,” implying that they can therefore be replaced with impunity.  This idea is plausible only if you take the trivial examples – Scottish country dancing, Highland dress, the Coronation ceremony, Christmas cards, and whatever else comes with a “heritage” label.  A real tradition is not an invention; it is the unintended byproduct of invention, which also makes invention possible… [A] tradition, precisely because it is not invented, has authority.  “Unintended byproducts” of invention contain more knowledge than any person can discover unaided.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Immortal Souls now available for pre-order

My new book Immortal Souls: A Treatise on Human Nature is now available for pre-order in the U.S. at Amazon.com.  Here again are the back cover copy, endorsements, and table of contents:

Immortal Souls provides as ambitious and complete a defense of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical anthropology as is currently in print.  Among the many topics covered are the reality and unity of the self, the immateriality of the intellect, the freedom of the will, the immortality of the soul, the critique of artificial intelligence, and the refutation of both Cartesian and materialist conceptions of human nature.  Along the way, the main rival positions in contemporary philosophy and science are thoroughly engaged with and rebutted.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Postliberalism is not despotism

In a new article at Postliberal Order, I explain why, contrary to a common straw man, postliberalism does not entail despotism.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Multiverses and falsifiability

Adam Becker’s 2018 book What is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics is an excellent account of the longstanding and intractable controversy over how to interpret quantum mechanics.  One of the main themes of the book is how much the direction of twentieth-century physics was driven by personalities, political factors, career interests, and, not least, unexamined and woolly philosophical assumptions – something philosophers of science like Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend have shown has always been true of science historically.  The tendency of contemporary physicists, especially, to be both ignorant of and condescending toward philosophy comes in for special criticism.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Update on Immortal Souls

Immortal Souls has at last been reduced from potency to act.  The official publication dates are in June for Europe and July in the United States.  Pre-order is now possible at Amazon’s websites in the U.K. and in Germany.  It should be available for pre-order soon at Amazon’s U.S. website, and I’ll let you know when it is.  You can find the table of contents and endorsements here, and other details at the publisher’s web page.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

New video course at Word on Fire

Recently I recorded a six-part video course titled Six Arguments for the Existence of God for the Word on Fire Institute.  You can find an interview about the course and further information here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Immortal Souls

My book Immortal Souls: A Treatise on Human Nature will be published this summer by Editiones Scholasticae.  At well over 500 pages, it's my longest book yet.  Here are the back cover copy, endorsements, and table of contents:

Immortal Souls provides as ambitious and complete a defense of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical anthropology as is currently in print.  Among the many topics covered are the reality and unity of the self, the immateriality of the intellect, the freedom of the will, the immortality of the soul, the critique of artificial intelligence, and the refutation of both Cartesian and materialist conceptions of human nature.  Along the way, the main rival positions in contemporary philosophy and science are thoroughly engaged with and rebutted.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Let’s open it up

If we had a new open thread post, what would you talk about?  Current events?  That off-topic philosophical or theological question you vainly keep trying to bring up in other threads?  Or perhaps one of the Postliberal Order articles of mine that you were unable to access before, but are now out from behind the paywall?  Let’s find out.  From vocalese to Daniel Keyes, from temporary intrinsics to temporary insanity, from Eisenhower to Einstein to Eisenstein – here, everything is open for discussion.  Just keep it civil and classy.  Previous open threads archived here.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Dignitas Infinita at The Catholic Thing

At The Catholic Thing, Diane Montagna interviews me about the Vatican’s recent Declaration Dignitas Infinita.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Plato and Aristotle on youth and politics

As faculty, including even philosophy professors, aid and abet student bad behavior on campus, it is worth considering what the most serious thinkers of the Western tradition would have thought about the political opinions and activities of the young.  What follows are some relevant passages from Plato and Aristotle in particular.  For purposes of the present article, I put to one side the specific subject matter of the recent protests, because it is not relevant to the present point.  What is relevant is that the manner in which the protesters’ opinions are formed and expressed is contrary to reason.  That would remain true whatever they were protesting.  Part of this is because mobs are always irrational.  But they are bound to be even more irrational when they are composed of young people.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Daniel Dennett (1942-2024)

Prominent philosopher of mind, apostle of Darwinism, and New Atheist writer Daniel Dennett has died.  I have been very critical of Dennett over the years, but he had two great strengths.  First, he wrote with crystal clarity, no matter how difficult the subject matter.  Second, as even we critics of materialism can happily concede, he could be very insightful on the distinctive nature of psychological modes of description and explanation (even if he went wrong when addressing how these relate metaphysically to physical modes of description and explanation).  It is also only fair to acknowledge that of the four original New Atheist tomes (the others penned by Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens) his Breaking the Spell, despite its faults, was the one that was actually intellectually interesting.  RIP

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Two problems with Dignitas Infinita

This week the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) published the Declaration Dignitas Infinita, on the topic of human dignity.  I am as weary as anyone of the circumstance that it has now become common for new documents issued by the Vatican to be met with fault-finding.  But if the faults really are there, then we oughtn’t to blame the messenger.  And this latest document exhibits two serious problems: one with its basic premise, and the other with some of the conclusions it draws from it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Western civilization's immunodeficiency disease

Liberalism is to the social order what AIDS is to the body.  By relegating the truths of natural law and divine revelation to the private sphere, it destroys the immune system of the body politic, opening the way to that body’s being ravaged by moral decay and ideological fanaticism.  I develop this theme in a new essay over at Postliberal Order.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Ed Piskor (1982-2024)

This week, cartoonist Ed Piskor committed suicide in the wake of the relentless online pillorying and overnight destruction of his career that followed upon allegations of sexual misconduct, of which he insisted he was innocent. Piskor’s work was not really to my taste, but I often enjoyed the Cartoonist Kayfabe YouTube channel he co-hosted. I was always impressed by the manifest love, respect, and appreciation he showed for the great comic book artists of the past. These are attractive and admirable attitudes to take toward those from whom one has learned.

The illusion of AI

My essay “The Illusion of Artificial Intelligence” appears in the latest issue of the Word on Fire Institute’s journal Evangelization & Culture.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Wishful thinking about Judas

In a recent article at Catholic Answers titled “Hope for Judas?” Jimmy Akin tells us that though he used to find convincing the traditional view that Judas is damned, it now seems to him that “we don’t have conclusive proof that Judas is in hell, and there is still a ray of hope for him.”  But there is a difference between hope and wishful thinking.  And with all due respect for Akin, it seems to me that given the evidence, the view that Judas may have been saved crosses the line from the former to the latter.

Jesuit Britain?

Did Spanish Scholastic thinkers influence British liberalism? You can now access my Religion and Liberty review of Projections of Spanish Jesuit Scholasticism on British Thought: New Horizons in Politics, Law, and Rights, edited by Leopoldo J. Prieto López and José Luis Cendejas Bueno.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Mind, matter, and malleability

Continuing our look at Jacques Maritain’s Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau, let’s consider some arresting passages on the conception of human nature the modern world has inherited from Descartes.  Maritain subtitles his chapter on the subject “The Incarnation of the Angel.”  As you might expect, this has in part to do with the Cartesian dualist’s view that the mind is a res cogitans or thinking substance whose nature is wholly incorporeal, so that it is only contingently related to the body.  But it is the Cartesian doctrine of innate ideas and its implications that Maritain is most interested in. 

Friday, March 15, 2024

The metaphysics of individualism

Modern moral discourse often refers to “persons” and to “individuals” as if the notions were more or less interchangeable.  But that is not the case.  In his book Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau (especially in chapter 1, section 3), Jacques Maritain notes several important differences between the concepts, and draws out their moral and social implications.

Traditionally, in Catholic philosophy, a person is understood to be a substance possessing intellect and will.  Intellect and will, in turn, are understood to be immaterial.  Hence, to be a person is ipso facto to be incorporeal – wholly so in the case of an angel, partially so in the case of a human being.  And qua partially incorporeal, human beings are partially independent of the forces that govern the rest of the material world.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

When do popes speak ex cathedra?

Consider four groups that, one might think, couldn’t be more different: Pope Francis’s most zealous defenders; sedevacantists; Protestants; and Catholics who have recently left the Church (for Eastern Orthodoxy, say).  Something at least many of them have in common is a serious misunderstanding of the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility – one which has led them to draw fallacious conclusions from recent papal teaching that seems to conflict with traditional Catholic doctrine (for example, on Holy Communion for those in invalid marriages, the death penalty, and blessings for same-sex couples).  Some of Pope Francis’s defenders insist that, since these teachings came from a pope, they must therefore be consistent with traditional doctrine, appearances notwithstanding.  Sedevacantists argue instead that, given that these teachings are not consistent with traditional doctrine, Francis must not be a true pope.  Some Protestants, meanwhile, argue that since Francis is a true pope but the teachings in question are (they judge) not consistent with traditional Christian doctrine, Catholic claims about papal infallibility have been falsified.  Finally, some Catholics have concluded the same thing, and left the Church as a result.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

What counts as magisterial teaching?

Popes speak infallibly when they either proclaim some doctrine ex cathedra, or reiterate some doctrine that has already been taught infallibly by virtue of being a consistent teaching of the ordinary magisterium of the Church for millennia.  Even when papal teaching is not infallible, it is normally owed “religious assent.”  However, the Church recognizes exceptions.  The instruction Donum Veritatis, issued during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, acknowledges that “it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies” so that “a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions.”  Donum Veritatis explicitly distinguishes such respectful criticism from “dissent” from perennial Church teaching.

Monday, February 19, 2024

A comment on comments


Dear reader, if it seems your comment has not been approved, sometimes it actually has been approved even if you don’t see it.  The reason is that once a combox reaches 200 comments, the Blogger software will not show any new comments made after that unless you click “Load more…” at the bottom of the comments page.  The trouble is that this is in small print and easily overlooked.  In the screen cap above, I’ve circled in red what you should look for.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Avicenna, Aquinas, and Leibniz on the argument from contingency

Avicenna, Aquinas, and Leibniz all present versions of what would today be called the argument from contingency for the existence of a divine necessary being.  Their versions are interestingly different, despite Aquinas’s having been deeply influenced by Avicenna and Leibniz’s having been familiar with Aquinas.  I think all three of them are good arguments, though I won’t defend them here.  I discussed Avicenna’s argument in an earlier post.  I defend Aquinas’s in my book Aquinas, at pp. 90-99.  I defend Leibniz’s in chapter 5 of my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  Here I merely want to compare and contrast the arguments.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

The heresy with a thousand faces

In a new article at Postliberal Order, I discuss the disturbing parallels between the woke phenomenon and the medieval Catharist or Albigensian heresy, a movement so fanatical and virulent that the preaching of the Dominicans could not entirely eliminate it and Church and state judged military action to be necessary.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Immortal souls at West Point

Had a great time visiting the United States Military Academy at West Point this week for a Thomistic Institute talk on the theme “Do You Have an Immortal Soul?” Thank you TI and cadets!

Monday, January 22, 2024

Voluntarism in The Vanishing

The reputation of 1993’s The Vanishing has suffered because critics judge it inferior to the 1988 Dutch movie of which it was a remake.  But considered on its own terms, it is a solid enough little thriller.  Jeff Bridges is effectively creepy as the oddball family-man-cum-kidnapper Barney Cousins.  I had reason to re-watch the flick the other day, and was struck by what I take to be an underlying theme of the contrast between voluntarist and intellectualist conceptions of human action.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Avicenna’s flying man

Peter Adamson’s new book Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna): A Very Short Introduction is an excellent primer on the great medieval Islamic philosopher.  After a biographical chapter, it treats Avicenna’s views on logic and epistemology, philosophical anthropology, science, and natural theology, and closes with a discussion of his influence on later philosophy and theology.  Among the things readers will find useful is the book’s discussion of Avicenna’s famous “flying man” argument.  Let’s take a look.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Progress report

My friends, it exists. More news later.

Jesuit Britain?

My review of the anthology Projections of Spanish Jesuit Scholasticism on British Thought: New Horizons in Politics, Law, and Rights, edited by Leopoldo Prieto López and José Luis Cendejas Bueno, appears in the Winter 2023 issue of Religion and Liberty.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

New Year’s open thread

Let’s open the New Year with an open thread.  Now’s the time at last to bring up that otherwise off-topic comment that keeps getting deleted, or anything else you like.  From Art Nouveau to Art Blakey, from presidents to presentism, from sci-fi to Wi-Fi to hi-fis, everything is on topic.  Just keep it civil and classy.  Previous open threads collected here.

Friday, December 29, 2023

What is a “couple”?

In my recent article on the controversy over Fiducia Supplicans, I noted three problems with the document’s qualified permission of blessings for “couples” of a same-sex or other “irregular” kind.  First, the document is not consistent with the Vatican’s 2021 statement on the subject, which prohibited such blessings, nor consistent even with itself.  Second, its incoherence makes abuses of its permission inevitable, despite the qualifications.  Third, the implicature carried by the act of issuing this permission “sends the message” that the Church in some way approves of such couples, even if this message was not intended.  In an interview with The Pillar, Cardinal Fernández addresses the controversy, but unfortunately, his remarks exacerbate rather than resolve the problems.

Friday, December 22, 2023

The scandal of Fiducia Supplicans

By now many readers of this blog will likely have heard about Fiducia Supplicans and the worldwide controversy it has generated, which may end up being even more bitter and momentous than the many other controversies sparked over the last decade by the words and actions of Pope Francis.  The Declaration, issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) under its new Prefect Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, for the first time allows for “the possibility of blessings for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex.”  This revises the statement on the matter issued in 2021 under Fernández’s predecessor Cardinal Ladaria, which reaffirmed the Church’s traditional teaching that “it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage… as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.”